February 1, 2017

Dokkaebi: The Closest Thing to Magic Anyone Could Possibly Experience

This is a personal rant, so spoilers abound. You've been warned.

At around 3 AM on the 22nd of January 2017, I completed Dokkaebi with one of the biggest emotional breakdowns (read: world-shattering cryfest) caused by any form of writing I had ever loved - be it a book, a play or a drama script. My whole face was covered in tears and I couldn’t even see the screen clearly anymore when Ji Eun Tak greeted Kim Shin in Quebec after being gone for at least 70 long years. I was sobbing - almost unable to breathe - into Memilgun (thank God I had the sense to cover him in a towel - he was expensive and my tears would have spoiled him) like a mad woman. I’m not exaggerating, I have no reason to. The final episode was definitely one of the most fantastically shot finales of a TV drama anyone could have ever written, and I can promise you this - I have taken everything into consideration before saying so; writing, direction, acting, cinematography, score and transitions. But then again, I would say the same thing about the previous fifteen episodes – at least for ten more years.

So yes, that marks the possible end of the roller coaster ride of extreme emotions I had never thought a drama could make me feel, and I am deeply saddened by it. No more sleepless weekends with the Dokkaebi Squad - discussing, fangirling and theorizing plot development. No more refreshing six different streaming sites every 10 seconds to watch the next episode. No more yelling, ‘Dah keluaq!!!’ in the Dokkaebi Squad group every time an episode is out. No more waiting for every week’s releases to download the OSTs. No more getting all emotional about unexpected plot twists. No more suffering 5 days like 5 months every single week. And no more misleading previews to wreck the group into smithereens of feels until the next episode airs. *sigh* This drama came into my life and brought with it so many things I am not willing to let go as it ends, even now and I really don’t know how to deal with this so I’ll just write my heart out. Basically, I trust that this whole production team must have given everything they had and traded a few really pure souls to the devil in exchange for one of the strongest line-ups of cast in the history of Korean dramas. I have to hand it to both Gong Yoo and Kim Go Eun, though. Their slow-burn chemistry is pure on-screen conflagration - so addictive, so engaging, so raw and real and thank God for their amazing abilities to deliver convincing emotions through their voices, eyes and facial expressions – your success as the Dokkaebi couple are a gift to humanity, hands down.

Let me tell you that I am a well-read person (most of my friends know this), I go for every genre I could in my reading and writing (but I do have favorites, though) so all these excessively destructive feels I am currently suffering are as legit as your very existence. You don’t have to agree with me, or even believe it but yes they are as real as you. This rant will be long and personal and very honest from my heart so if you hate the drama for any reason, I would really appreciate it if you leave now - there is nothing for you here. And if you have loved everything about Dokkaebi and are experiencing withdrawals - I am happy to invite you to stay and let’s do this together.

At a glance, if you have a bit of knowledge in literature, Dokkaebi is a TV drama that has rich poetic content and sky high standards of visual production; you don’t have to wait long to see these, they are in every frame of every episode for you to appreciate and gape at. I do that; gaping and covering my mouth and staring in awe and gaping again, LOL. Every episode is show-offish and spectacular on so many levels, every actor is perfect for their roles, the impressive score is always on point and every scene was gorgeously shot it felt like I was watching a series of 16 art films, instead of an on-going cable TV drama. The first few seconds of the first episode definitely stole every possible amount of emotional and intellectual investment I could ever offer to a literary work and hooked me to it until the last moment of episode 16. The plot is laced with light-hearted comedy and heart-wrenching drama, which are the stuff I live for so it was a heartbreakingly incredible journey, but it was worth it. And I never knew that it was possible to be so dedicated to a TV drama like that – I have only been this obsessed with books my entire life. So this was a new experience for me. It was refreshing. It felt great.

The cast and characters are a pool of polished talents, which was the major reason I went out of my mind every single week waiting for the next episodes to air. The chemistry – either slow burn or violent lightning bolts trapped in a glass bottle – were some of the best I’ve seen in any production. And the line deliveries, God, it’ll be difficult for future dramas to top the ones in Dokkaebi. Everyone went all out for this particular production – and no effort went to waste. No one fell short behind anyone in leaving a memorable performance, and no one will be forgotten. Because every moment spent watching each and every one of them, shined. However, it’s the Dokkaebi couple that made everything work for me. Both of them are in their own leagues, it was electrifying to watch them on screen together because;

Kim Shin is the dokkaebi who set hearts of women on (blue) fire.

Our lonely dokkaebi used to be a highly accomplished general of Goryeo, and he has spent 900 years existing and offering miracles to people who need them. He’s ancient and wise but he bullies his Joseung Saja housemate and Deok Hwa whenever he thinks he should, he is righteous and heroic but he summons gold bars to boast about them whenever he gets drunk – he has so many dimensions to his character that are refreshing to watch and I enjoy every single one of them. I’ve written a whole post about him, so I won’t be ranting much about him here. But I will say that he’s the first representation of a dokkaebi I have ever seen so I have no one to compare him to, thus he becomes the benchmark for future dokkaebis if there will be any. He is the kindest, majestic though shattered immortal soul I have ever encountered in my entire reading career - he reminds me of the person I hope to one day meet and befriend, and that’s just magical. I love that Gong Yoo embodies the lonely gentleman that is Kim Shin – his physical approaches towards Ji Eun Tak are always pure and loving, never aggressive, never possessive, never lustful – unlike some of his previous roles. Hehe. Just when I thought nothing from Gong Yoo will ever surprise me anymore after Busanhaeng, he delivered a perfectly flawed Kim Shin and took my breath away. *sigh* And I also love his smitten face in this drama, LOL. Would you look at that?

And Ji Eun Tak is the heartbeat of Kim Shin’s eternal life.

She is also the heartbeat of the whole story. I admit, one of the reasons I decided to watch Dokkaebi was writer Kim Eun Sook – I love how she wrote Descendants of the Sun, and the other reason was Gong Yoo; he was incredible in Busanhaeng. But I fell in love with Ji Eun Tak first before I fell for the story and the insane force that is Kim Shin, and I couldn’t even believe it. I love that her character is so wonderfully written – she is a breath of fresh air. When I saw a nine-year-old Eun Tak in episode 1 talking to the ghost of her mother, my heart swelled at how strong she was. There was no sobfest; and instead of comforting her with loving words of departure, her mother gave her instructions because she was smart enough to get over the loss, carry them out and mourn later. She was nine, people. Nine. When I was nine, the only thing I did on my own was my homework. My mother helped me with them occasionally, too. Pft. And ten years later, she surprised me again by being able to survive in such a toxic household – mentally and physically abusive aunt, downright stupid and evil cousins, I hate all of them and the rice bowl scene will forever be ingrained in my memories as one of the most insulting things anyone could ever do to another person. You would think she would be gloomy and depressed all the time, having to live with such vile creatures and not having a single friend at school; but she looks at life so positively that it’s hard to not adore her strength. She doesn’t let these side characters bring her down and continues to dream and hope for a better future, and she strives hard for it.

I’ve come across some hate on her character and even Kim Go Eun for no real reasons apart from the fact that Ji Eun Tak is too young compared to Kim Shin (WTH?). Look people, I really can’t comprehend this – if she is played by an 80-year-old halmoni, she would still be 800 years younger than our dokkaebi so what exactly is the issue here? Nothing. There is no issue and you people are just dirty-minded. The age gap is already addressed by Joseung Saja Kim Woo Bin in episode 6, which means the whole production team knows what they’re doing and it is irrelevant to the plot, so why exactly? LOL?

Some other haters thought they were being critical by saying she is childish and clingy, but I’m really waiting for at least an evidence to prove this claim though. So far no hater has come forth with any so I’m just going to brush this off because it's just groundless hate. But if you’re referring to how playful and carefree she was around Kim Shin when they first went to Quebec, I’m going to have to call you crazy or just dangerously bitter and I suggest you get help -  that's one serious mental illness you got there. It’s disturbing how people find a way to hate on someone not deserving of hate. Some people just have so much time to waste. If you expect a friendless high school senior who had lived under constant abuse for ten years, been treated unfairly by her teacher and classmates, been told that she wasn’t supposed to be born when she was perfectly healthy at 9 right after her mum’s death to NOT be overwhelmed by excitement and brightly grinning around the first person who had shown her a bit of kindness (buckwheat flowers and a magical trip to Canada) - you have an unreasonable standard for how such a person should act. So playful and carefree, yes. Childish and clingy, no. This girl practically grew up on her own, dealt with all the shit the world had in store for her all by herself, never backed down despite being pressured by negativity from every possible aspect of her life and fiercely refused to give up on surviving despite knowing she was living on borrowed time. Like hello, she works hard at growing up and not getting corrupted by her surroundings and succeeds. How do you hate a character like that? How?

*sigh* Anyway, Eun Tak never fails to surprise me over and over again with her thoughtfulness, endearing quirks and impressive character development – helping the ghost girl to refill her fridge so that her mother deals with her departure easier, laminating the maple leaf as parting gift for the dokkaebi, sweet-talking the dokkaebi into telling her the lottery numbers to help the ghost ahjumma’s children, working out to pull out the sword in one go so as to not hurt out dokkaebi (even while knowing that he would have to leave) because that’s what he wanted and needed from her, picking up the pieces of his heart when Chairman Yoo passed away, defending her ghost unnie from being punished by Kim Shin because she already apologized, graduating college with a degree while battling clinical depression all on her own, becoming a radio PD who inspires her co-workers every day despite having to deal with unspeakable grief every night, suffering hard core abandonment issues for ten years and never really getting over it but still treating undeserving people with kindness, saving a whole group of kindergartners in a heartbeat because someone should and no one else could – I could write a whole paper on why Ji Eun Tak is one of the most inspiring women in literature and get an A+ for it, but I have another paper to finish so I will leave you with this: She is one of the most selfless, courageous, forgiving, loyal and unpredictable characters ever written, and I adore everything about her (and if you think otherwise, I will fight you because you’re wrong). She shines so dazzlingly and honestly all the time without even trying and that means a lot to me, who wishes to write better women in my own fictional works. For the magic that is Ji Eun Tak, I thank writer Kim Eun Sook. You’re inspirational, writer-nim, and Eun Tak is no less. I mean, look at that toothy grin LOL.

Alright. That should be it about the main leads. Let’s move on.

Now, one of the best things about Dokkaebi that I really appreciate is the fact that it does not spoon-feed the viewers the character and plot development, and major messages of the drama through straightforward line deliveries and scenes. It respects the viewers as people, who are thinkers, so they are instead done with genius transitions, stunning cinematography, precisely and symbolically placed props and elegant poetry in the multi-layered dialogues. You see all these in every episode but the one part that stunned me the most was when the two school girls were eating at Samshin Halmang’s fish cake stall.

The friend comments on the girl’s hairclip saying that she could just wear it when the father is around because it’s embarrassing. But the girl with the hairclip would not remove it, because she loves her dad and love isn’t something that exists just because the person is there with you. Following this scene was another in which our lonely Kim Shin walks by, wearing Ji Eun Tak’s red scarf around his neck – because his love for her does not fade just because she is not physically there with him. I choked back tears as I connected these two scenes because they were both disheartening and magnificent at the same time and I thanked God for the years I spent attending Literature classes in university. I would have missed half of these flashes of literature brilliance throughout the series if not for the classes. *sobs some more*

Right. In this production, literally no line is delivered for nothing, I promise. This is one of the most powerful conversations in the drama; 

              Kim Shin: There is no sadness that lasts for eternity. And there is no love that lasts for eternity.
              Eun Tak: I’m gonna vote that there is.
              Kim Shin: Which is it? Sadness or love?
              Eun Tak: Sad love.

and you have to wait until the end of episode 16 to witness the impact of this dialogue on the foreshadowed truth of their cruel yet beautiful destiny. What they had was pure, innocent love, and it was too sad to comprehend, let alone endure. It had and will always be true love, as it had and will always be too sad. But it lasts for eternity, and that’s the most important thing to them – and the rest of the fandom who actually gets it. Because God gave them such fate as a question, and their answer to Him was the best anyone under their circumstances could offer, that’s why they both win in the end. *wow, the feels*

Also, literally no prop is placed in a shot for nothing – buckwheat flowers that symbolize lovers, Joseung Saja’s brooch which hints who he was in his previous life, cotton flowers given to Ji Eun Tak by Samshin Halmang, Memilgun, laminated maple leaf, Eun Tak’s mother’s red scarf, Sunny-not-Sun Hee’s jade ring, star hairclip, candles, rose gold necklace with the word Destin as the locket, red scarf worn by Kim Shin; I could go on and on but let me just tell you that the writing of this drama is no joke. It calms me down a bit, knowing that our writer-nim took six years to complete the manuscript. If she had taken lesser, I will have no choice but to stop believing that she was ever human. So yes, the props. Just do a little research on what they mean and how they fit in each scene and you’ll realize how inventive the direction of this drama is. I’m really running out of adjectives here, people, so I really hope I’ve been making sense.

If you have read my rant up to this point, you would realize that I had been very attentive during the airing of every episode to the point that it’s almost psychotic and I am a rabid worshiper of the writing of this drama. I love it with my entire capacity of appreciating someone’s work and that is huge, even for me. I will defend everything and everyone fiercely so if you’re hating, you need to stay off my radar. And you would also realize that if you haven’t watched it, you really should and that if you already have but didn’t end up crazy, you’re cool. But in all honesty, the writing of this drama is on another level so if you’re the kind of viewer who needs to be told everything (like why didn’t Ji Eun Tak just summon Kim Shin instead of going to Quebec to find him? Or how did Kim Shin make it back? Or why did Ji Eun Tak so easily say ‘I love you’ in the first episode? Or how can this be her first life if Kim Shin first saw her in late Joseon? – I still can’t believe someone actually asked this in the comments section, but yes, I hope you get the idea), then this drama is not for you. You’ll get distracted by the loose ends you thought weren’t tied but were actually knotted in the decisions made by the characters, and that would definitely suck. So you stay happy, and watch another drama. I mean it. I’ve seen enough hate that was based on ignorance and lazy thinking so believe me you don’t wanna be a part of that. It’s really embarrassing to watch and it hurts the people who appreciate the production team’s hard work.

It’s not a difficult drama to revel in, it’s just very intricately and delicately written, the details could be overwhelming, which is why some lazy thinkers won’t and don’t get it thus ending up writing hate comments on both story and characters (although the only character they seem to hate for no obvious reason is Ji Eun Tak but yeah really whatever). I guess that’s the problem with non-thinking people, they go around writing shitty opinions about something they cannot even comprehend, instead of doing something about their disability (read: shallow-mindedness) and I swear to God I have yet to find a hate comment on Dokkaebi that’s not a personal attack on Kim Go Eun and Ji Eun Tak - because as hard as it is for them to accept, these haters have literally nothing on the show. No hate post has ever provided significant instances of the so-called flaws, non-existent chemistry and wonky execution they claim to have noticed in the episodes. They are just making empty claims with no substance or evidence and really, I don’t feel sorry for them at all. They don’t deserve it. I’m just glad I don’t belong to their group. Because honestly, I don’t think people who hate on fictional characters who are all around good and affectionate will ever be good friends to anyone. Seriously, if a person is helpful, brave, warm and compassionate and you still find it inside you to hate on him or her - what does that say about you and your mental state? Right. Exactly my point.

So I really hope that if you haven’t watched it, you would give it a shot. I can’t guarantee you would love it as much as I do, but from where I am, everything I have written about it up to this point is all true. So yes, think about it. I’ll wait. Heh.

OK, my rant is almost over so I’ll jump straight to the most powerful message in the drama that got through to me - selfless love always wins. In the beginning – both Eun Tak and Kim Shin desperately tried to keep each other alive because neither wanted either to die because they wanted to have each other for as long as possible; Kim Shin stopped a huge traffic collision because Eun Tak was on the bus, Eun Tak left the house and disappeared because she could never draw the sword knowing he would perish. This is selfishness, in a sense of wanting your life partner to always be with you at the expense of others (read: Joseung Saja working overtime and Kim Shin having to suffer his punishment longer). But as the drama draws to a close, they both came to realize that love isn’t about holding on to each other no matter what, it’s about returning to each other no matter how far you are separated, by time or distance.

Selflessly and surprising me yet again, Eun Tak decided that her time was up and she should leave the world of the living, but not before earning herself the title Cheonsa for taking the full impact of the crash and saving the lives of innocent children. She was 29, she was a Missing Soul – a Gita Nurakja, she has lived long enough on the time that she wasn’t supposed to have and she has always had it coming – so she left because it was for the best. I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult it got from the moment of the crash to Kim Shin falling to his knees, crying out the agony of his most painful loss in 900 years (it must have destroyed him into unrecognizable pieces; being a god and not being able to reach her on time) – my tears wouldn’t stop falling, and my heart broke for both of them. The last time I cried this much was when Dumbledore died and it was so devastating. It wasn’t easy. But it helped a lot to have the Dokkaebi Squad and with me through it all, though it was still so overwhelming.

Yet my heart swelled with pride when she decided to not drink the tea of oblivion, because in her short life, she had no regret whatsoever. Most of her 29 borrowed years were filled with suffering and heartaches, but she chooses to keep all of the memories because somewhere among them, there is Kim Shin. And selflessly too, Kim Shin agreed to wait. He could have just accepted God’s forgiveness then and there, cross over and be granted peace, but he let go of that opportunity because he wanted to wait for her in her future reincarnations. He didn’t know if they would be reincarnated in the same lifetime. He didn’t know if they would be able to find each other and we didn’t know how many lives he still has. But she still has another three. So wait for her he did. *sobs OMG WTH* I couldn’t help but smiled tearfully at Eun Tak’s genuine happiness when told that it was her first death. She knew that she was coming back, and she promised to come back running. And came back she did, although it took her many years later. It was perfect. So perfect. So selfless and sad but magically eternal. I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion. I wouldn’t.

However, some fans have been complaining and suggesting alternate endings all over the internet. I couldn’t bring myself to agree to any of them. An ending where the dokkaebi chooses to become a human and grow old with his bride is an absolute betrayal to the title of the drama and the entire premise the story was built on. And an ending where Eun Tak somehow becomes another dokkaebi and lives forever with Kim Shin would be an insult to the viewers’ intelligence because it was stated loud and clear in episode 4 - if any of them complainers were actually paying attention – that she believes in a love that’s sad but everlasting. And that kind of love wins everything, every single time. Because it is selfless.

Sure, she will grow old and will have to leave him again in the future, and he will have to wait for her again and again until she uses up all her lifetimes. But I’d like to believe that the white butterfly would be merciful towards both of them at the end of her fourth reincarnation, and let them cross over together. Besides, the white butterfly likes Kim Shin for his good looks, and his punishment was long over – so if he asks to go to the afterlife with her, I bet it’ll be granted. I believe that our Dokkaebi couple will get their happily ever after in the end, without either of them having to leave the other, ever again. It’s bittersweet, but it’s the most perfect ending for their story. *uglysobs* So, so perfect, God.

*breathes deeply*

Alright. Congrats upon making it here, if you did. And thank you for taking the time to revisit the story that we all love so much, with me. It’s been a pleasure writing this out. The chaos in my thoughts is now calm so I think I can go back to writing my thesis. But that doesn’t mean I’m moving on. I’ve seen some bloggers writing posts about not being ready to move on from Dokkaebi and I thought to myself, ‘Why should we? Why can’t we just love it forever, re-watch the episodes like we re-read our favorite books and re-live the wonderful memories over and over again?’ Right? So I’ll take my time. I’m in no rush. It’s a beautiful love story. We should let it live.

And finally, I would like to thank the entire production team, especially writer-nim Kim Eun Sook and director-nim Lee Eung-bok for everything that made Dokkaebi the masterpiece that it is. Everything and everyone was right for the drama in their own magical way and it’s an honor to be watching all 16 masterpieces as the rest of the world was. Writer-nim, I don’t know if you will ever see this, but you’re amazing and I hope you hear people telling you that every single day because you deserve it. Thanks for sharing your beautiful story with all of us; Dokkaebi could easily be the closest thing to magic anyone can ever experience, so from the bottom of my heart, thank you.